It’s finally spring, which means it’s time to head outside. Getting outdoors more often brings a variety of health benefits and can positively impact both your physical and mental health. But the latest trend in exploring the outdoors goes even further than that. It’s called forest bathing.
What exactly is forest bathing?
Forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku, is a healing practice developed in Japan in the 1980s. The goal of this practice is to hike out into nature and allow yourself to notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you. By practicing mindfulness — letting your mind slow down and focus on your senses — you’ll start to notice health benefits that spill over into your everyday sense of well-being.
What are the benefits of forest bathing?
It can reduce stress
We all know stress is hard on our bodies, and it’s been pinpointed as one of the leading causes of illness. Stress leads to chronically high levels of cortisol, which can cause anxiety, trouble sleeping, digestive issues, weight gain, and a long list of other health concerns. And with our schedules as hectic as they are today, it’s no wonder we often feel under the weather more often than we think we should.
Forest bathing encourages you to slow down, take deep breaths, and focus on your surroundings in a way we often can’t when we’re rushing to and from our next errand or social event. By taking some time away from your jam-packed schedule and letting yourself be mindful, your cortisol levels will have a moment to mellow.
It may help lower your blood pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common health condition that affects around 70 million Americans. Its causes vary, but they frequently include factors such as age, lifestyle choices (like smoking or not getting enough exercise), and other medical conditions (like diabetes) that can lead to your blood putting extra pressure against your artery walls. Hypertension can lead to serious symptoms like headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, and confusion, among others.
Immersing yourself in nature may have actual, scientific benefits that aid in lowering blood pressure. A small study published in 2011 looked at the potential benefit of forest walking among 16 men in Tokyo, Japan and found that blood pressure was significantly lower in the same day after a 2 hour walk in the forest.
Mindfulness is not the only factor influencing our health. Some studies have suggested that trees emit beneficial compounds called phytoncides — essential oils from wood — into the air. When phytoncides are breathed in, they’re thought to reduce concentrations of stress hormones and have an overall positive effect on our bodies’ automatic responses. The research is far too early to draw any strong conclusions about the medical benefit, but it’s interesting to see this field of research grow.
You’ll feel happier
Going for a walk is an easy way to get a quick happiness boost, but why not take it to the next level by surrounding yourself with nature? A 2014 study from the journal Environmental Science and Technology discovered that people in Britain who moved from a grey urban setting to an area with more green space created sustained improvements in mental health. In fact, the researchers noticed that not only did people’s happiness levels increase when they moved closer to natural areas, but the opposite was true for those who moved from nature to more urban settings.
While getting out to a forest may be a little more difficult than popping out for a quick walk on your lunch break, the positive impact on your physical and mental health could be enough of a reason to incorporate a hike into your after-work or weekend routine more often. Chat with a provider today about your fitness goals and how you can improve your mental health with physical exercise.
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